An Ignition Training graduate at work
David Brazer of Ignition Training gives us an insight into what inspired him to launch his training social enterprise and how he made it happen...
After being nominated for the BQ Festival's Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award, we caught up with David Brazer to find out more about Ignition Training and to hear what inspired him to launch the business...
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Ignition is a social enterprise and is a unique fusion between a training centre and a real working garage. Ignition was established in 2014 with the idea of creating something that gave people skills, qualifications, real work experience, something for their CV and a reference giving opportunities for unemployed and marginalised people. We did this as we wanted to effect real and 'lasting change' in unemployed individuals, their families and the wider community.
We found that our service users (disabled, ex-offenders, people with addiction or mental health issues often haven’t done well in education. Learning for them is much more positive experience in a practical setting coupled with support through their other issues, done through a network of specialist providers i.e. debt advice, counselling, addiction specialists etc.
The centre works as a real working garage rather than a college environment to give learners the vital ‘immersion’ into a real working environment and teach them how to cope in a garage setting, with customers waiting. Profits buy tools for the learners.
What did you do before you started this business?
I have had a varied career including working in factories, NHS administration, research officer, worked as a private investigator and trained and practiced as a hypnotherapist (both self-employed). I then found a job working to support people with disabilities into employment.
This is where I found something I was passionate about. So much so that I worked my way up to operations manager within 18 months, had 42 staff and six offices. I left there and started another social enterprise called Citadel supporting the most marginalised into employment, training and career support.
What inspired you to start up?
I started my first Social enterprise after I had found a job that I was passionate about. Supporting people who were experiencing every adversity yet still wanted to contribute to their families and society in a positive way. John had cerebral palsy, I met him in college when I was an employment adviser. He was in constant pain, could hardly speak, he asked me to get him some voluntary work so he could put something back into the community. John and others like him inspired me then and continue to do so to this day.
I started Ignition after seeing some unemployed jobseekers who seemed to go from one provision to another and put on CSCS card courses without being given marketable skills to go with it. This is why I asked the question how can I do something about this problem? I chose a garage environment and training centre to give skills, qualifications, real work experience, something for their CV and a reference. Also, to work on their positive attitude, teamwork ability, self-efficacy and employability.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
I would say, remember when you used to take me to visit your work, I asked how you were you were in charge and you told me you did it by doing more than is expected of you even though nobody else is there to see. That working your hours will earn you a wage, caring enough about what you do and working hard will earn you a career. How you used to say how everyone is part of the team, and that its always better to respect them and ask staff to do something rather than tell them.
This is what we teach our students while showing them how cars work.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I seek advice from everywhere and anywhere but I ensure that the important things are covered. Accounts, a good trusted accountant is vital and can save your business thousands of pounds.
Payroll, I have an outside payroll company doing the wages to ensure accuracy and so that I can work on the business rather than be bogged down in it.
Personnel, I have joined the Chamber of Commerce which offers lots of business advice long with Personnel and Legal advice. H&S, I have a Health & Safety adviser as we teach young people and in the third sector H&S is vitally important.
I seek advice from my staff who are experts in their field. Also, the service users. Some of the greatest innovations have come through seeing their needs.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
After putting the plans together, I was successful in gaining a small fund from South Yorkshire Community Foundation and a small key fund loan. I had some tools, a Halfords toolbox, no garage and no mechanic but had a start. I was then successful in writing a bid for the DMBC 'Innovation fund' to start the project and pilot the idea. Shortly after I met with Probation and gained funding from them to help some of their offenders through the program.
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as this sounds but after deciding that this was going to happen I put everything into making it happen. There was a lot of hard-work and a little bit of luck. I had developed my skills writing bids and managed to sell the concept enough to gain start-up funding. I didn’t know where it would go from there but I’ve managed to show the benefits to consequent funders and develop an income generating strategy which looks feasible.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I established Ignition to try to answer a question ‘what do unemployed people need for lasting change’. It has surpassed my expectations entirely for the stage we are at. We have gained 50 jobs for some of the hardest to help unemployed. This, along with other interventions has saved local services over £500,000.
We have been fortunate to win many awards which has inspired the staff and service users and showed us that we are doing the right thing. Most recently the Duke of York Community Initiative award and Social Enterprise of the year 2017. I personally won Entrepreneur of the year in 2016 which amazing as my wife and daughter were there to see this.
We have moved three times now two small garages and now an old skate park. There is much to come next month when we move again and become part of a group of Social enterprises making up an academy of ‘hands on’ skills.
I’m so proud though of the service users who sometimes can’t look us in the eye at first but find the confidence to look for and gain employment. We’ve found them emergency counselling, kept them from prison, given them a focus away from drink or drug dependency. Or rather, we’ve facilitated it, they’ve done it. My proudest moment though must be when my daughter visited my latest centre, hugged me and said I’m so proud of you!
How do you differentiate your business from others?
My business is a unique fusion between a training centre and a real working garage. Our learners learn the same skills as they would in a college but rather than teach them in a clinical college environment we teach in a setting which is as real as it gets. Our learners work on donated vehicles and get to meet real customers, order parts for customer vehicles, and work on cars that are destined to drive away, not to be used by trainees until they are no longer maintainable.
Our trainees are aged 14 to 60 and all trainees who are looking for work are given skills ‘up front’ to equip them for employment in the motor industry and beyond. As we are a social enterprise we use profits to support further learners through the process.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
Being your own boss is like going mad, on purpose!
It is seriously hard work up-front with no guarantee of success unlike working for someone else and getting paid directly for the work you do. It’s exhausting too (regularly working 80 hours per week). It’s frustrating, a massive learning curve, scary, soul destroying and constantly stressful. Multiply this by 10 when you take on staff and worry about keeping them in work too. You must be prepared for all seasons, it isn’t all summer, things change constantly to challenge you. It stretches you far beyond your perceived limitations. It sometimes hurts, sometimes makes you want to quit and wish you’d opened a burger van.
It is also rewarding, exciting, inspiring and throughout everything else, you know you would never go back to working for someone else. It absolutely changes your mindset from being risk averse to saying let’s do it.
Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
We will be delivering a wider range of training courses and projects and will have grown the Academy idea and have opened a number of other centres, Sheffield next and a third in Leeds. We are also looking at possibly franchising the centre. We will be teaching courses on MOT tester and MOT manager courses. We are now looking at electric/hybrid vehicle technology and will have developed ‘Mighty Oaks’ entrepreneur support program. We will be delivering building and technology courses, gardening, retail, admin and sales. Something for everyone.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Supporting other entrepreneurs if a personal passion of mine and I am about to build a new project to do just that
First rule, take the first step. Your brilliant idea will never happen (for you) until you do. If you wait until you have all the skills that you feel are necessary to succeed you will never get the business off the ground. You do need skills but every entrepreneur realises at some point that, and I can’t stress this enough, ‘Success is never about can or can’t, it always comes down to will or won’t'. There are millions of people who ‘can’ but that doesn’t translate to actions. Most people say I wish, Entrepreneurs quit the excuses and say, “I will”.
Find your passion – if you are not passionate about the business you are starting you won’t have the strength to make it through the tough times. Make no mistake, things will go horribly wrong and just as you think you’ve made it something else will come along to trip you up. But if it means something to you, do not quit. You need massive determination to start any business, however that is the easy bit. Keeping it going and growing will stretch your every emotion to the limit.
Find a true mentor - Why is this important? Well during your time as an entrepreneur, you will need to be prepared for people who will try to talk you out of it (bosses, colleagues, family), make no mistake about that. Not because they don’t like you but because they see you leaving them behind and doing what they haven’t the courage or commitment to do as you become more confident and focussed. These are the people that visit you in hospital, eat all the grapes they brought, and tell you about someone they know who ‘died of that’. Positivity vampires. Have someone in your corner who you trust entirely, someone with your best interest at heart, who will be honest with you means everything during the hard times, and to share the great times.